Five superpowers I wish I had

Silver statue of a man, standing dramically posed with rope around his waist.
My next superhero, by Jonathan O’Donnell on Flickr

Let me tell you a little secret.

I’m not Superman. I’m not Spiderman (sometimes, I feel like poor, put-upon Peter Parker, though). I’m not Iron Man and I’m definitely not Wolverine (although you might think I have adamantine claws once I’ve torn through your latest draft application).

Actually, I’m not a superhero at all. At best, I’m a “highly trained normal”, in the parlance of the comic book world (and some would question the ‘highly trained’ bit).

Which is funny, because a lot of you seem to think that I do have superpowers. I don’t, I assure you.

If I did, I’d be out saving the world, rather than trying to save your grant application. Despite this, you maintain an unshakable faith that I can do the impossible.

To prove my point, here are five superpowers that I don’t have (although I wish I did):

1. I can’t make money.

This is always a favourite element of rich superheroes like Batman and Iron Man. Somehow, they seem to be able to manufacture cash at a moment’s notice, enough to buy a new super suit or satellite or even a small, remote volcanic island.

Bereft of this superpower, I can’t fund your research. I don’t have the keys to the Faculty funding strongbox. I don’t know where a secret stash is stored.

I do know how you can try to get funding for your research, but it takes a lot of time and hard work. And it isn’t even certain. Most of the time, there’s a less than 1 in 5 chance of being successful. If you need better odds than that, or you don’t want to do the work, or if you need it straight away, don’t look at me. I can’t make money.

2. I can’t bend time.

At one point in his comic book life, Superman flies around the world so fast, again and again, that he actually travels back in time. In this way, he righted wrongs before they have even happened…sort of.

I can’t do this.

So, please don’t come to me when it is All Too Late. Don’t come to me with just a few hours to go, or after the closing date. I’ll just look at you sadly and send you away. There’s nothing I can do.

You see, you will need a signature from someone very important in the university. Someone very busy. Someone who may not even be on campus right now. Getting that signature takes time.

I’d like to help, but I can’t control time. Can’t bend it, spindle, fold, or mutilate it. Can’t make it run backwards. Can’t make it.

3. I can’t see into the future.

Will your application be funded? When will the results come out? Will your review come in while you are away on your field trip? Will you get a promotion if you get this grant?

I.  Don’t.  Know.

I wish I did. I really do. That way, the conversation that we just had – the one where you asked me all those things about fifteen different ways – that conversation would have been useful to you and interesting to me. As it is, it wasn’t. It was a distraction for you and a waste of time for me (see #2 above).

I’m happy to help you before the application goes in. I’m happy to celebrate or commiserate with you after the results come out. In between times, though, I can’t help. I can’t tell you what the results will be until they are announced by the funding body.

4. I don’t have x-ray vision.

I don’t have x-ray vision, infravision, ultra-vision, or any other paranormal vision. This means that I don’t see every mistake. I don’t see every possible way to strengthen your application. I can’t see the perfect way to construct the foolproof argument.

What I do see is a lot of applications. Lots and lots of them. For months at a time, I see nothing but applications. Because I see a lot of them, I gain a sense of what might be helpful for your application. I also look with fresh eyes, so I can sometimes spot logical holes, spelling errors and typographic mistakes. But not all of them.

In the end, the quality of the application is your responsibility. I’ll look at it for you, but not with x-ray specs.

5. I’m not perfect.

You knew that already, didn’t you?

I’ll work with you to make your application as perfect as we can make it. I’ll do everything that I can, but I might have 5, 10, 20 or 50 other applications that I’m also working on. I may be tired, harried, or not be feeling the best; sometimes, I’m all three.

This means that I may not be as polite as I should be. I may not be as understanding as you would like (especially when you clearly believe that I have superpowers). I may be slow to respond. Sometimes, I may not respond at all because what I’m working on is more important, or has a shorter deadline than what you are working on. Hard to believe, but there you go.

I’ll give you what I can. I’ll give you what I’ve got, but it may not be perfect. Sorry, what you see is what you get.

I’m sure there are other superpowers that you believe RO peeps should have. What mutations would be most useful for you?


    • Thanks, Brian.

      I should point out that a lot of people I work with understand that I don’t have any power at all.


  1. Love it. Wish you (or I) had those superpowers. The other superpower I’d like to have (which is totally unrelated) is to see, at will, someone’s name in a little bubble above their head.


    • The superpower I wish I had is telepathy – it would make editing a project’s aims and outcomes, and doing people’s budgets so much easier!

      That said, when I flag to someone that I am in the dark about what they mean or working on assumptions because they haven’t spelt it out, they realise quickly + are immediately contrite. Being in this job has really brought home to me how important clarity of communication is; it’s something I have to practise every day.


      • Telepathy might also allow you to avoid unpleasant confrontations.

        “I sense angry vibes coming down the corridor – time to do a fast fade.”

        Then again, that might mean that you never see some people at all! So, bonus invisibility power. 🙂


    • I would love, love, love that power. Not in a creepy face-recognition kind of way, but just for those people whose names I know, but can’t quite recall when I run into them at the cafe.

      I would be willing to be bitten by radioactive spiders to get that power.


  2. Here at the Research Office at Sussex,, UK we have a crystal ball, you know. Or so they think. Thank you so much. I enjoy this blog entry enourmously.


    • Ah, old-school magic. Maybe you could write a guest post on ‘Five magic spells I’d like to cast’.

      Or, even better, comments on draft applications from the professorial staff at Hogwarts. Or a Research Whisperer post from the Research Development Office of the Unseen University (if you are a Terry Pratchett fan). Now that would be fun!

      On the other hand, 1,000 words demystifying Horizon 2020 for non-Europeans would be welcome, too. Just sayin’.


      • Thanks Jonathan. ‘The five magic spells’ guest post is a rather exciting prospect. Plenty of stuff to chuck into the cauldron…. and ok, I guess could also do a few paragraphs on H2020 if you like, no worries.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.